How to plan a do-it-yourself Alaskan moose hunt
Last fall, I was fortunate enough to hunt Alaskan/Yukon moose, which has been the pinnacle of my hunt wish list ever since I was a kid. Prior to a few years ago, it was literally just that — a wish. I didn’t think that I would ever be able to hunt moose based on a couple of internal narratives I had built up.
One, I always thought it was too expensive. You always hear that to be successful on an Alaskan moose hunt it will cost you a substantial amount of money. By that, I mean $16,000 to $20,000 plus for a guided moose hunt. Those numbers are fact. That is indeed how much a guided moose hunt costs and, if you absolutely have to harvest and want a chance at a really big bull, a guided hunt is still the best option. The thing about that, though, is I knew I would not have $25,000 to ever put toward a moose hunt.
The second bottleneck: knowing that I cannot afford a guided hunt, is it even possible to plan and actually pull off a successful DIY hunt instead? The logistics of going on an Alaskan hunt seem almost insurmountable for a lot of us in the lower 48. In my experience, the truth is that hunting Alaska really is all about logistics. The silver lining is that it’s probably more possible than you think. Before I continue, I would be crazy if I did not acknowledge that my success was due in part to a partner that had an idea and a good working knowledge of Alaska hunting. Steve Opat was critical to making this trip work. Select your own hunting partners wisely! With that, having done it myself, I will cover what I think were the keys to doing a DIY Alaska moose hunt.
If I were starting the process again, my first step would be to log into my INSIDER account, click “Alaska” under Filtering 2.0 and select Alaskan/Yukon moose as your species or just click here. At that point, you will see the map populated with the various units that offer moose hunting. I would then scroll down through the filters on the right portion of the page and find the “select season” dropdown filter. Within that, you can see all the general options. General hunts in Alaska are available over-the-counter (OTC) or you can simply go to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (AKDFG) website and buy your permits.
After you have selected a season, perhaps “Rifle, General,” you will see the map has filtered down to the units where those hunts are available. Doing this yields 46 areas that offer general rifle hunting opportunities. From there, I would scroll down to the harvest success filter. By sliding that filter over to 50%, I can see there are seven areas that had 50% plus harvest success. With a little more work and I can see there are a couple units that have better than 70% harvest success.
After I have filtered down to a few units that I would like to explore further, I can click on each unit on the map and that will take me to the unit profile. Within each unit profile is where I am going to begin narrowing down my search further and pick a unit to focus on. When I am cruising through and reading the information in the unit profiles, the things I am looking for are little nuggets of information. For example, in Unit 22A in the snapshot portion it states, “there are a few small towns located along the coast but much of the area is native-owned and most hunting will be conducted inland” My very next step would be to take a quick look at a map with the land ownership to see where the possible hunting opportunities are. Also, when reading through the vegetation and terrain descriptions, I can see that the northern portion of the unit is more heavily timbered and there are more rolling hills and mountains with some open ridgelines. The southern portion is much more open tundra and river bottoms and small sporadic timber. Later on, under the access portion, it states that hunters can opt to boat up the Unalakleet River and float down or to be flown into remote locations. It also states under camping and lodging that there are small towns or communities along the coast with some lodging options.
I then would suggest you start looking at historical harvest success and the number of hunters surveyed. With a few hours worth of looking, you can widdle it down to the unit you want to hunt.
If you got through that first section, you would have seen that I made note of things like land ownership, towns, access (river or fly in) and habitat. Those factors are where I would suggest you start. Remember that logistics are what I would consider to be the most important pieces of the Alaskan hunting puzzle. I am going to break the following sections out into what I think are the pieces of the logistics puzzle. Then, I will give a rundown on what my hunting partner and I did for some added context.
- Where to hunt and how to access it.
- Gear you’ll need and how to get it there and back, including antlers and meat.
- How much will it cost?
Where do I hunt?
Moose are abundant on timberline plateaus, along the major rivers of Southcentral and Interior Alaska, and in recently burned areas that have generated dense stands of willow, aspen and birch shrubs. Some of the largest moose populations in the state exist in Unit 12, 13, 14A, 17B, 17C, 18, 19A, 19B, 19D, 20A, 20B, 20D, 21D, 22 and 24.
Finding a specific area to hunt moose has much more to do with access than it does with other species. You might look at a map and think that you have found the best moose honey hole in the world, but you have to be able to access that area. I will do a deep dive into access below, but when you are deciding where remember you must have the means of getting to and from the area(s) you want to hunt.
The two best ways to access moose hunting opportunities are by boat or by air. Boats/rafts with a motor can run up and down a river while a raft can only float down. A bush flight can get you to a drop camp; however, be aware: from a drop camp, you are likely limited to about a two-mile radius of that camp.
You should also know that a mature bull moose can weigh 1,200 to 1,600 lbs. Everyone's a little different and I believe that I am a bit more willing than the average hunter to push my boundaries to pack an animal out. There are definitely people more hardcore than me and there are certainly some that are less so. I think the point I am trying to make is that you absolutely need to be honest with yourself about your abilities to pack a moose out.
For reference, my friend, Steve, and I packed both of our bulls out. My bull was approximately one mile from camp and took two of us a full day to pack it out. Steve’s bull was 1.75 miles from camp and that required both of us packing meat for a day and a half to get it all out. Based on my experience, a large bull will require approximately 10 to 12, 70 to 80 lb pack loads to get all the meat, antlers and cape out. It will depend on the terrain, the vegetation, weather, time you have to pack out and, of course, your individual abilities, but I would say two miles is the maximum distance I would consider with good conditions.
Taking that information into consideration, I would suggest that your next step is identifying spots on the map/Google Earth and work backwards. Ask yourself the following questions:
- If I want to hunt here... how do I get there?
- Where are the rivers near there and which way are they flowing?
- Where are the towns in proximity to where I might want to hunt?
- Do the towns have rivers flowing into or through them and can I access hunting areas from a river? If I can, can I rent a boat in that town or can I fly in a raft and float down?
- Are there airports in the towns and what is the air cargo shipping and receiving possibilities? Are there drop camp services from the airport?
- Are there vehicle rentals and lodging?
All of these questions are going to play a key piece in putting your hunt together.
Gear you’ll need and how to get it there and back, including antlers and meat
My gear list is broken down below. In addition, I have included gear that Steve and I shared. I will also include shipping/packaging gear that will be needed to ship meat and antlers. We used a tipi tent and a stove combo for a couple reasons. One, it’s lightweight and easy to pitch and, two, the stove allows you to keep warm at night and dry your gear out. The ability to dry your gear is critical. We also cooked a lot of our meals on top of the stove. We used a Titanium Goat Vertex Tipi and a titanium stove. Another excellent option would be the Seek Outside Redcliff or 8 man Tipi and the SXL Stove. Also, I did not include my weapon, but we packed a 300 Ultra Mag Rifle and I used my Mathews Traverse bow. I would suggest that if you are bowhunting, it’s a good idea to hunt with a partner who is packing a hunting rifle for added protection for bear encounters.
Alaskan moose gear list
|Tent||Tipi style, Seek Outside Redcliff or 8 man tipi|
|Stove||Seek Outside SXL Titanium Stove|
|Sleeping bag||Western Mountaineering Versalite 10°|
|Bivy||Outdoor Research Alpine|
|Sleeping pad||Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite|
|Pillow||Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight|
|Backpack||Stone Glacier XCurve & Sky 5900|
|Dry bag||Stone Glacier Load Cell Dry Bag|
|Pack cover||Mystery Ranch Rain Fly Pack Cover|
|Spotting scope||Swarovski ATM 20-60x65|
|Rangefinder||Leica Rangemaster 1600|
|Tripod||Sirui 1204xl w/ Vanguard PH-25 Head|
|Binocular adapter||Leica Stabilite|
|Binocular harness||Outdoor Vision Ridgeline|
|Rangefinder Pouch||Outdoor Vision Sightline|
|Fuel bottle||MSR 30oz Fuel Bottle|
|Pot||Seek Outside Titanium Bail Handle Mug|
|Skillet||Sea to Summit 10” Alpha Pan|
|Utensil||MSR Folding Spork|
|Water bottle||2 goHUNT wide mouth Nalgene Bottles|
|Water bottle||Platypus SoftBottle 1L|
|Water filter||Roving Blue O-Pen|
|Water filter||AquaTabs Purification Tablets (15)|
|Dry storage bags||Sealline Baja 55L Rolltop Dry Bags|
|Personal protection||Glock 40 Caliber w/ Kydex Holster|
|Tarp||RAB siltarp 2|
|Power||Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus|
|Power||Goal Zero Venture 70 Power Bank|
|Trekking Poles||Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork|
|Knife||Tyto 1.1 Replaceable Blade Knife|
|Blades||#60 Replacement Blades (12)|
|Knife||White River Hunter|
|Multi-tool||Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool|
|Saw||Gerber Freescape Camp Saw w/ bone & wood blades|
|Saw||EverSaw Folding All Purpose Hand Saw|
|Machete||Cold Steel Bolo Machete|
|Headlamp||Black Diamond Storm|
|Headlamp||Petzl e+Lite Headlamp|
|GPS||Garmin Etrex 22X|
|Satellite messenger||Garmin InReach Mini|
|Fire starter||Survive Outdoors Longer All-Weather Fire Cubes (25)|
|Matches||UCO Titan Stormproof matches (15)|
|Lighters||Bic Classic (3)|
|Pen/marker||Black Sharpie mini|
|Meds||1 Tylenol PM per day, 2 Ibuprofen per day, 2 Excedrin Migraine per day, 3 Oxy|
|Medical||2 butterfly bandages, 2 Celox blood clot pack, suture thread with needle, 4’ Leukotape|
|Hygiene||TP In Ziplock, Wetwipes In Ziplock, Zpacks Ultralight Travel Toothbrush|
|Batteries||AA and AAA backups for GPS/headlamp|
|Game bags||4 Caribou Wapiti Meat on the Bone Game Bags|
|Game bags||4 Caribou Muley Meat on the Bone Game Bags|
|Cord||50’ Zpacks Z-Line Slick Cord 2.0mm|
|Base||Sitka Core Lightweight Crew|
|Base||Sitka Core Lightweight Hoody|
|Base||Sitka Core Lightweight Bottoms|
|Underwear||Sitka Silk Weight Boxers|
|Pants||Sitka Mountain Pant|
|Belt||Sitka Stealth Belt|
|Top||Sitka Core Midweight Zip-T|
|Top||Sitka Core Heavyweight Hoody|
|Insulation||Stone Glacier Grumman Down Hoody|
|Insulation||Western Mountaineering Flight Pant|
|Socks||Darn Tough 2012|
|Rain jacket||Sitka Stormfront Jacket|
|Rain pant||Sitka Stormfront Pants|
|Gaiter||Sea to Summit Quagmire|
|Hat||goHUNT the dad hat|
|Hat||Carhartt Watch Hat Beanie|
|Gloves||Sitka Mountain Gloves|
|Gloves||Outdoor Research Transcendent Down Mitts|
|Breakfast||Probar Base meal bars|
|Lunch||Dried salami slices, jerky, hard cheese slices, smashed bagel|
|Snacks||1 packet Fbomb Nut Butter, Snickers bars, Honey Stinger Waffer, That's It Dried Fruit Bar,|
Probar Meal Bar, almonds, cheese sticks, cheddar cheese packets
|Dinner||Peak Refuel/Mountain House, dehydrated mushrooms and vegetables, 2 lb bacon, smoked fish,|
Knorr Side sides packets, instant mashed potato packets, moose tenderloins!
|Luggage||SKB bow case, Mystery Ranch 55L duffel|
|Raft||Jetech Solar 420A Strela|
|Motor||75 HS outboard motor|
|Fuel cans||10 gallon fuel canisters (3)|
|Oars||8’ oars (2)|
|Patch kit||PVC Repair Kit for raft|
|Tools||Toolbox with wrenches, pliers, etc to repair/attach motor|
|Rope||100’ of 3/16 nylon rope for meat pole and hanging meat|
|Pump||Double Action Hand Pump to inflate raft|
|Food storage||5 gallon bucket with sealable lid (2)|
|Salt||Morton purex all purpose salt for salting cape if mounting|
|Plastic totes||Sterilite 18 gallon totes w/ lids for shipping meat. May need an additional larger tote for cape if mounting|
|Wrap||3 heavy duty cellophane roll/wrap with handle|
|Tape||1 large roll of Gorilla pape, 1 large roll of packing tape|
|Cardboard||Flat cardboard uses to cover antlers for shipping|
|Foam||Tubular foam pipe insulation to cover antler tips for shipping|
Travel/shipping and hunting logistics
Since this article is for the DIY hunters out there, getting your gear into the field requires planning and preparation. Most towns and villages in Alaska rely solely on air cargo to get their supplies, so shipping and sending things via air cargo is a way of life. It’s very common to have multiple flights a day and they will have storage facilities where you can pick your gear up when you arrive. For example, Steve packaged the totes, deflated raft, motor, empty fuel tanks and some loose gear onto pallets at the airport and after cellophane wrapping those we shipped them via air cargo to our destination airport so they would be waiting when we got there. If you are doing a float trip, you can do the same thing. If you are doing a fly-in drop camp, you can likely get your gear to your destination by adding it as checked baggage. Explore your options. Can you rent a boat? Can you rent a raft and have it shipped to your destination? There are options; you just need to explore those as part of the planning process.
Along the same lines, you can get your gear back home in the same manner. Once again, put the boat, motor and loose gear on pallets and air cargo it back home. We wrapped the antlers/racks in cardboard, put foam on the tips and used cellophane wrap and tape to secure it and we also shipped those via air cargo. I was able to ship my bull all the way to Salt Lake City where I picked it up a few days later.
Meat care and preparation is something you will need to plan for prior to your hunt. You must know the game rules and regulations before your hunt. In Alaska, after you have killed an animal it is your responsibility to salvage all of the edible meat. Remember these keys to meat care: keep the meat cool, clean and dry. We were able to hang our meat in game bags from a makeshift meat pole near the river and covered it with a tarp to keep it dry. After transporting it back into town, we once again stayed two nights at the lodge and were able to spend that time cutting, trimming and packaging the meat into the Rubbermaid totes. Once the meat was in the totes, we were able to transport it to the air cargo at the airport where they had cold storage. Check on the cold storage possibilities before your hunt.
I was able to fly home 100 lbs of meat (two 50 lb totes). I simply taped the totes shut and checked them as baggage at the airports. Checking totes with meat and fish is commonplace in Alaska and they will label them as cold storage and store them as such along the trip to your final destination.
One last note on meat: obviously, there is much more than 100 lbs of meat from a bull moose. Prior to your hunt, you will need to make arrangements to deal with any meat you do not take home. Alaska has a “Hunters for the Hungry” program you can explore where they will help you donate extra meat. You may also explore the option in the village or town you are using as a jump off point to your hunt. To donate meat, you are required to complete some forms and the meat must be in good condition. Overall, do not underestimate the workload and responsibility of caring for the animal that you harvest!
Based on my experience, whether you are going on a boat/float trip or fly-in drop camp, you need to plan on having a travel day and quite possibly two additional days to prepare and travel back. For example, I flew from Salt Lake City on an early morning flight and by the time I landed at the airport where we planned to head into the field, it was late evening.
In most cases, travel to your jump off point will require a full day. I would plan on spending the first night in a motel/lodging at your jump off point. This will allow you to get organized, get your gear together and get a good night's rest. You should also check on the supply options at your jump off spot, including fuel and groceries just in case you need a few last minute items.
Flights to and from your destination should be booked as early as possible in order to save a few dollars; however, return flights are another thing. Personally, on the hunts I have done in Alaska, I have often been delayed a day or more on return. Travel in Alaska takes time and the weather is going to play a major role in your plans. Personally, I would suggest waiting to book your flights back when you are ready to come home. Doing so will probably save you some stress and money as flight change fees can add up.
Once you land in Alaska at your jump off destination, you will need to figure out a way to get your gear/cargo to your lodging and, then, perhaps, to the river. If you are doing a drop camp or a float trip after being flown in, you may be able to leave your gear at the airport, meet your pilot the next morning. Then, you’re off! If you are renting a boat or you have air cargoed a boat to a town/village and need to get it to your lodging and then the river, you should consider renting a truck. Most villages will have options to rent a vehicle to transport your gear. We were able to rent a truck for one day on arrival and two days in preparing for departure. Those arrangements and contacts should all be made before you arrive. Do not plan on having cell phone service in many areas of Alaska when you show up!
This is the section of the article that the majority of hunters are probably going to be concerned with. Hunting Alaska is expensive; it just is. The cost of travel, lodging, shipping and licenses and permits add up. The good news is that if you can save and plan, a DIY hunt is not so expensive that it’s out of reach for most of us. Below I will break out the estimated cost of my moose hunt in Alaska. There would be some additional costs for hunters who are renting a boat or doing a drop camp hunt.
DIY Alaskan moose hunt estimated cost
|Alaskan/Yukon moose locking tag||$800|
|Lodging (three nights)||$450|
|Air cargo/fuel/packing supplies||$1,097|
Food and gear are additional costs. I packed all my food into my checked baggage. Any gear that you need is in addition to this, but the good news is that for under $5,000 a successful DIY moose hunt is possible.
The eight days I spent hunting western Alaska for giant bull moose will forever be some of the most enchanting and cherished days of my life. The experience was one I had dreamed about since I was a kid. Since I have returned, many people have asked, “How was the hunt?” and, if I am honest, my reply is always, “It was so much work.” I would not underestimate the amount of work a hunt like this will be. I would also tell you that the satisfaction I feel from having done this hunt is immense. It was everything I hoped for and my hope is that this will help someone experience a hunt they have been dreaming about, too.